President Obama kicked off the new year with one of the most pressing and dire problems facing America — gun violence. When the president announced his new executive actions aimed at addressing gun violence, he welled up with tears during his heartfelt remarks, as he recalled the deaths of children at Newtown and elsewhere.
It was real, and you could feel his emotion.
“The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people. We are not inherently more prone to violence,” the president said.
“But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close. And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.”
The president also lamented the lack of political will to solve the problem. “And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates — despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in America about what needs to be done.” It is for that reason, the president shared, that he is holding a town hall meeting in Virginia on gun violence, to bring people together for a discussion.
But after he shared the fine points of his executive actions, his words transitioned from the policy to the personal.
Our right to peaceful assembly — that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.
There were pauses from the president as he struggled to maintain his composure. This is a man who is now entering the final year of his second term in the White House. As the man said, he is not on the ballot or “looking to score some points.” Every president, however, cares about their legacy, and that for which the people will remember them.
Politics is filled with a great deal of profiling and posturing, and that will never change. But these days, there is so much plasticity, so much fakery in many of our elected officials. Far too often, they seem to utter their statements and policy positions based on which special interest paid them the most to say it, or which way the wind is blowing. And that is likely why there is so much public discontent and displeasure with politics these days.
As a black father, I felt the painful sincerity in the voice of the president, another black father. And black folks with kids know that the pathways are fraught with danger for their children. Far too often, these young people face obstacles to their future and pipelines that steer them away from success, or worse, a gun pointed or fired in their direction, whether from another black person, some vigilante, or a police officer. With gun homicide as the leading cause of death among young black people, the African-American community knows that this issue is a matter of saving our future.
Meanwhile, the mass shootings continue without skipping a beat, and while others are resigned that this is simply the way America will be, the president dared to pierce the veil and broach a once-taboo subject.
No one should conclude that a series of executive actions will serve as a panacea. The White House said as much, urging Congress to take action. And we cannot believe that suddenly the president waved a magic wand and disappeared all of the systemic causes of this violence. America has an unhealthy gun culture, with gun manufacturers reaping big profits, a sense of gun worship, a violent history the nation must reconcile and a public health problem that requires immediate attention. At the same time, in the black community, there are often scarce opportunities for young people, a lack of self-worth and the impact of poverty, racism and other forms of oppression.
We have to ask: why are most mass murderers are white men, and why is suicide so prevalent in the white community? We also have to ask why there are so many brutal cops with a gun who go home to abuse their spouses after they have abused black people. So many questions. I want to know, and I’m sure you do too. But if we don’t get the ball rolling, we will never get the chance to answer them.
And President Obama’s tears started rolling today, and it was real. But who else in Washington, or elsewhere, will cry with him as our children die from these bullets?
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove